Senators want to give FTC more authority to combat illegal robocalls

The Federal Trade Commission received over 4.5 million robocall complaints last year.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
2 min read

Robocalls are annoying. 

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Lawmakers are continuing their push to end robocalls.

On Wednesday, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced the REAL PEACE Act, which would expand the Federal Trade Commission's authority to crack down on telecom companies that facilitate illegal robocalls. (In case you're wondering, the witty acronym stands for "Robocall Elimination At Last Protecting Every American Consumer's Ears.")

"This bill would close an outdated loophole that enables scammers and spammers to make intrusive and illegal robocalls to millions of unsuspecting American households," Blumenthal said in a release. "The REAL PEACE Act will give long neglected enforcement authority to the FTC that allows them to more aggressively crack down on these calls and finally hold bad actors accountable."

Telecom companies have been largely free of FTC oversight because they're regulated by other government agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission. The REAL PEACE Act (PDF) would give the FTC more authority to investigate telecom companies and services involved in robocalls. 

"For many years, [FTC] has testified in favor of eliminating the common carrier exemption," a FTC spokesperson pointed to the commission's testimony on privacy before the Senate Commerce Committee. "It impedes the FTC's work tackling illegal robocalls and more broadly circumscribes other enforcement initiatives. The exemption may [also] frustrate the Commission's ability to obtain complete relief for consumers when there are multiple parties, some of whom are common carriers."

The FCC is also trying to crack down on illegal robocalls. Last week, the agency said it plans to create a database that businesses can check to make sure the numbers they've been given permission to call haven't been reassigned to other people. The FCC also wants to give wireless carriers more flexibility to block spam text messages.

Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai sent letters to the heads of AT&T , Comcast, Verizon , T-Mobile , Sprint , Google and others, asking them to adopt a call-authentication system by next year that would combat illegal caller ID spoofing.

The FTC received over 4.5 million robocall complaints last year, according to the Blumenthal's release.

First published on Nov. 29, 11:29 am PT.

Updates, 1:37 pm PT: Adds FTC's response. 

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